Founder of College Initiative
2011 Soros Justice Fellow
Benay Rubenstein has been a leading prison educator for over 25 years, designing and directing college programs in New York State and federal prisons. In 1997 she produced the award-winning film, The Last Graduation, documenting the history of higher education in New York State prisons. From 1997-2000 she directed the college program at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York's only maximum-security prison for women. This college program, the first to return to a NYS prison after the loss of PELL and TAP, was supported entirely with private funding and a consortium of private colleges. In 2000, Benay co-founded the College and Community Fellowship, a reentry education program for women. In 2002, she founded, and until recently directed, The College Initiative, a reentry education program serving men and women throughout New York City. In September 2012, Benay received a Soros Justice Fellowship to mobilize educators, advocates, researchers and students to reform the State University of New York's admissions policies that impose significant barriers to higher education for people with criminal records. The documentary, Passport to the Future: Accessing Higher Education in an Era of Mass Incarceration, produced with filmmaker Jeremy Robins, sheds light on the issue of criminal justice screening for college admissions, highlighting how this policy creates unnecessary barriers for admission for many, particularly men and women of color, who understand that higher education is their ticket to employment and a crime free life for themselves and their children.